Tell me why I shouldn't chainsaw these snowbanks (or can I?)
February 23, 2015 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm in Greater Boston. The very high snowbanks at the start of my driveway make it difficult to see who's coming down the street when I'm trying to exit the driveway. I'm dreaming of acquiring a chainsaw and lopping off the tops of some of the worst snowbanks just so I can see. Good idea, stupid idea? Should I leave the power tools out of it and just get a bow saw or similar? How would you cut these things down to size?

I'd normally just use a shovel, but these are some pretty tall snowbanks, and it's awkward to move a shovel full of snow when it's at shoulder height. My thought is, slice off the cap of the snowbank, push it onto a tarp, drag tarp to backyard and add snow to that endless heap where it's not obstructing my view of the right of way. Would that work, or is it a good way to destroy a chainsaw?
posted by dywypi to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We accomplished this by standing on top of the snowbank and shoveling down to a tarp-like object in the driveway, which we then used to move snow to a different location.

If you haven't used a chainsaw before, I wouldn't do this. (Actually, I've used a chainsaw plenty of times and still would not do this.) Not so worried about the chainsaw as I would be about you injuring yourself with it due to knockback or dropping the saw.
posted by anastasiav at 12:37 PM on February 23, 2015 [14 favorites]

I would worry that the saw would generate enough heat to melt the snow as you went through it, so that it would end up freezing together and you wouldn't end up with a "pushable" chunk.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:38 PM on February 23, 2015

I'm generally of the mindset that tools should be used for their intended purpose, especially power tools. A chainsaw is for cutting logs and trees, or occasionally sculpting clear ice.

I assume those large snowbanks were put there by snowblowers and plows? There's a good chance that, mixed in with that ice and snow, are plenty of rocks, chunks of salt, and who knows what. Hitting those with your chainsaw could turn a regular day into a bad day. There's probably also varying constancy in the snow so you might be pushing the saw through only to have the resistance suddenly reduce and then you've got that bad day thing happening again.

In any event, igloo builders just use snow saws to cut snow blocks. A regular saw will cut through snow pretty easily. Do you have a long hand saw? What about slicing it with a chunk of rope? There's a good chance it will just freeze back together the second you cut it.

Snow, especially snow mixed with dirt and road salt, is heavy. You might have trouble lifting more than a shovelful anyway.

Sorry to ruin your fun.

We've been hacking our snow mountains apart with a shovel, an ice breaker, and a mountaineering ice ax. We still can't see over it but we knocked it down enough to the snowblower could put more snow on top of it.
posted by bondcliff at 12:39 PM on February 23, 2015 [41 favorites]

So very dangerous! Please don't do this! If you fall or even slip with a chainsaw in your hand, the result could be disastrous. If you fall or slip with a shovel or rope in your hand, you could probably live with the results.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:41 PM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Unless it's ice, there's little point to using a chainsaw as just about anything will cut through the snow. Your issue is more how to reach the snow, and the suggestion to climb up on the bank sounds like the right one unless you're dealing with very narrow snowbanks.

If you can't climb up or reach where you want to, you could undermine the bank by digging into it at a lower height until it all comes down (proceed with caution and don't do anything ridiculous here). You'll need to get the snowbank height down to a level where you will have good visibility from inside your car anyway.
posted by cardboard at 12:45 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Snow is water, water is wet, wet is slippery, and dealing with a chainsaw in slippery conditions is not ideal. Plus, if you chainsaw through snow it's just going to stick back together again once the blade stops moving.

One idea is to stab the snow with the handle end of a broom or some other long pole. Stab stab stab, then push/pull it down with a shovel. Or, if you're still interested in risking your life, you could use small explosives. But you didn't hear that from me.
posted by Elly Vortex at 12:49 PM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

As kids, we used to do this with snow scoops. Home Depot sells them too.

You can move a very impressive amount of snow with those in a short period of time. Faster than anything except a snow blower. The scoops work well for this because you're never actually picking the snow up, just pushing it about.
posted by bonehead at 12:51 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the lack of uniformity is likely really going to work against you. And I don't like the element of surprise with a tool like a chainsaw.
posted by amanda at 12:53 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd use an axe, myself.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:59 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I have a relative who uses a chainsaw in the snow... on trees. It's dangerous even if you're experienced and know what you're doing. I would not use a chainsaw in your situation.

That being said, I feel your pain; using a chainsaw on the snow would be pretty cathartic right now. (I've been using a sodcutter on the ice for much the same reason.)

I would instead look for something you can push into the snow to chop snow bricks off. You can then relocate said snow-bricks to the tarp, and then relocate the tarp to another location. Maybe something like a metal pizza peel? Chop in on either side, chop down below, separate chunk. Repeat. It'll be tedious, but a lot safer than a chainsaw.

Note that OP is in Boston; something like a snow scoop is patently impossible to use for snowbanks that are above chest-height.
posted by pie ninja at 12:59 PM on February 23, 2015

I use a chainsaw often enough. I don't think the idea would be my A idea. Maybe more like option E. Somewhere in options A thru D would be using the horn liberally before inching out of the driveway. That is a good indication of the value of the chainsaw idea.

Undermine the bottom of the pile so that you can pull the top down onto the tarp.

Can you rent a Bobcat? Maybe all your neighbors on the street chip in to rent one for a day and take turns helping each other until there are piles of snow in backyard not driveway entrances?
posted by 724A at 1:02 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Buy a wagon.

Knock down snow. Place in wagon.

Pull wagon to place in which to deposit snow. Deposit snow.

Poor man's snowblower.
posted by zizzle at 1:31 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

FWIW, snow scoops are awesome.
posted by idb at 1:33 PM on February 23, 2015

I'm pretty adventurous when it comes to this type of thing, but I don't think the chainsaw is a very good tool for the job. As a strictly practical matter, it will cut through your snow and ice. Besides the relative danger and being rough on the saw due to being wet and salty, I think your additional frustration would be that the blade will be too short even on a real big chainsaw. You'd be better off with a long handsaw with the most aggressive teeth you can find or a sidewalk ice chopper that you can cut out large blocks with pretty easily. I've done my share of this, and I've also cut holes for ice fishing using a chainsaw, and that would be my advice.
posted by LowellLarson at 2:22 PM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm in the same boat as you. There is no clean way to do this. You are going to make a mess that you are going to have to clean up. Get yourself a good heavy transfer shovel. Use the transfer shovel to chip away at the pile and knock parts of it down to the ground. When you have a bunch on the ground, shovel the snow into your vessel of choice and dump it in the back yard. The best way to do this is to have someone else there with a regular snow shovel loading a wheelbarrow or sled while you knock down the pile.
posted by Talk To Me Goose at 4:00 PM on February 23, 2015

We have those same damn mountains. I have been thinking about getting to the shed to extract my wicked awesome chromed (I know! I know!) gardening fork, and use it to start busting up those bergs.

In Minnesota we would let them melt, and occasionally smash them apart to expose new snow to the sun; as you are too well aware, yesterday was the first day of melting temps in like weeks.

So no to the chain saw, but yes to almost any other saw, fork, pry bar, pruner, bill hook, glaive, shovel, pickaxe, or level of any kind in order to start applying some force to the snow.

(But seeing someone take a chainsaw to the snow would, I think, be cathartic for your whole neighborhood! Plenty of volunteers to call 9-1-1, no doubt.)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:09 PM on February 23, 2015

I grew up in Buffalo and have literally never heard of anyone doing this thing. Then again, I do not know what people did instead so I can't suggest an alternative. But worst case scenario if you don't do it is that you get in an minor accident. Best case scenario if you don't is that nothing happens and this problem resolves itself Monday when it looks like it may reach 40 degrees. On the other hand, the best case scenario with using the chainsaw, you get more visibility when backing up. Worst case scenario sounds potentially messy and unpleasant.
posted by kat518 at 8:07 AM on February 24, 2015

No. No offense but this sounds like something you would read about in some Darwin Award piece. Just google "chainsaw accidents" Shovel, mottock.
posted by Pembquist at 9:28 AM on February 24, 2015

Knock a bit off the top into the street with a shovel. Cars run over the snow, it melts. Repeat. The A-Town cops haven't cited me for it yet.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:18 PM on February 24, 2015

Maybe something like this?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:47 AM on February 25, 2015

Personally I would try to get your hands on a long two-person cross-cut saw. With one person on each side of the snowbank, you should make good time of it...Just be careful when the ice comes down on one side!
posted by anaelith at 5:16 AM on February 25, 2015

Are you still alive?
posted by amanda at 8:31 PM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


posted by amanda at 9:43 AM on March 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes! Still alive. Thank you all for preventing me from maiming myself. When it warmed up a bit last weekend, my husband and I chopped the cap off the snowbank with shovels and ice chipper, bit by bit, then relocated the snow to a safer place.

(I just realized this question made it to the podcast, a first for me!)
posted by dywypi at 4:32 PM on March 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

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